Best Foods For Constipation
Constipation is when stools are difficult to pass, incompletely voided or infrequent. Until you experienced it, you probably took bowel movements for granted. But once you have chronic constipation, you realize just how much of an impact it can have on your daily life, and how uncomfortable it can be.
Do You Have Constipation: What are the symptoms & causes of constipation?
What’s Causing Your Constipation: Why assessment is KEY to finding the RIGHT treatment.
Secondary Constipation: What other underlying conditions may be causes of constipation?
By now you know that I spend a lot of time talking to people about their poop. Or sometimes, the lack of it. While we all may miss a day now and again, having chronically difficult to pass, painful or infrequent stool is NOT normal. If you’re amongst the sufferers you’re probably wondering:
“What are the best foods for constipation?”
“What foods should I avoid – which are the foods that cause constipation?”
Learn below which are the best foods for constipation (relief & prevention) – and which foods may contribute to constipation and should be avoided. I break it all down, give detailed explanations & evidence, and my final expert opinion to sum up which are the absolute best foods for constipation.
FOOD SOURCES: Natural Laxatives & Constipation Remedies
In many cases, at least part of their laxative effect is related to their soluble and insoluble fibre content. The best foods for constipation commonly contain lots of soluble and insoluble fibre. Insoluble fibre acts like a bottle brush, preventing stool from adhering to the walls of the colon, while soluble fibre absorbs many times it’s weight in water to form a gel-like consistency that prevents stool from being too dense or hard. Both add bulk to stool, helping it move through the colon and be expelled.
Some of the other best foods for constipation have effects that relate to bacterial fermentation in the gut, a stimulating effect on the bowel, or the ability to draw water into the colon.
Here’s the complete roundup! (Or scroll to the bottom for the BEST choices.)
1. High Fibre Fruit (i.e. berries, prunes, apples, pomegranate, kiwi):
Generally speaking, high fibre fruits that contain a mixture of soluble & insoluble fibre can help to add bulk to stool, while simultaneously moistening and lubricating stool for smoother passage. Here are the top contenders:
- Kiwi & blackberries shown in studies to be especially effective. The pectin in kiwi may contribute to laxative effect via improved peristalsis & transit time.
- Prunes are high in fibre & also contain sorbitol, a poorly absorbed sugar alcohol that acts similarly to osmotic laxatives – that is, it draws water into the intestines to help stimulate a bowel movement. Prunes, in studies, yield similar improvements to straining & general symptoms of constipation when compared to psyllium, but showed a greater increase in the number of spontaneous weekly bowel movements than psyllium.
- Apples are high in fibre, contain pectin and show prebiotic activity; all of which contribute to improved transit time.
2. Resistant Starch/Butyrate:
Foods like legumes (beans, lentils), cooked & cooled potatoes, green bananas and whole grains are examples. Aside from being high in fibre, these foods are particularly high in “resistant starch”, a type of carbohydrate, which through bacterial fermentation in the gut, produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) – including butyrate. SCFAs, and especially butyrate, are important energy sources for the cells of the colon.
Butyrate may reduce symptoms of constipation in the following ways:
- shown to increase & strengthen peristalsis (the contactile motion that propels food down through the intestines)
- improves smooth muscle contractility in the gut
- supports regulation of the nerves that control peristalsis
- shown to decrease visceral hypersensitivity (increased pain perception commonly related to symptoms of gas and bloating)
- has an anti-inflammatory effect (decreases visceral hypersensitivity)
- SCFAs limit the movement of water out of the colon, potentially contributing to keeping stool moist.
Senna alexandrina is the herb found in common laxatives like Ex-Lax and Senekot. It exhibits a stimulant laxative type effect via sennosides – compounds that speed movement through the digestive system to stimulate a bowel movement. They also increase water absorption into the colon which helps pass stool. Taking these products or the herb are NOT good long term solutions to constipation, as they are stimulant type laxatives, which: may decrease your colon’s ability to contract strongly – worsening constipation and resulting in dependence upon them. They also may cause cramps and diarrhea. Speeding transit time may lead to dehydration, electrolyte imbalance or impaired absorption of nutrients like calcium and vitamin D.
Want the benefits of senna with less side effects?
Eat some rhubarb! In addition to it’s high fibre content, rhubarb contains sennosides. Too bad it’s only in season briefly. But for a month or two in spring (or longer if you cook up some rhubarb-apple sauce to freeze or can) you can mix some in with your oatmeal & ground flax for a breakfast sure to “get you moving”!
Chia, a seed, is quite high in soluble fibre, which likely accounts for it’s effect.
Many studies have demonstrated its effectiveness at treating and preventing both constipation & diarrhea. A 2004 study showed flax was significantly more effective than psyllium at relieving constipation and reducing bloating and abdominal pain scores. Even better? The longer flax is consumed, the greater the effect (symptoms were better after initial treatment period, but continued to improve after a further 3 month trial). Grind them (or buy ground seeds) to get the benefit – or else they will just pass through the gut whole.
Psyllium is the most commonly recommended bulking agent – found in many over-the-counter fibre supplements like Metamucil. This study showed psyllium to be more effective at treating constipation than the stool softener docusate sodium.
7. Oat Bran:
A 2009 study involving frail geriatric patients showed that oat bran allowed almost 60% of subjects to stop using laxatives, while also benefitting their well-being and healthy weight management. Oat bran has also been shown in studies to be a colonic food (demonstrates the ability to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the colon), which promotes overall colonic health.
Like natural yoghurt and other probiotic-rich foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, etc), the bacterial cultures in kefir may contribute to overall gut health, improved transit time and regularity of bowel movements.
A 2014 pilot study in functional constipation, using 500 ml/day of kefir for 4 weeks, showed an increase in stool frequency, improved stool consistency, and decreased use of laxatives. There was also improved transit time (movement of stool through the gut), and improved sense of satisfaction after a bowel movement. A pilot study granted – but it showed that further study was warranted. Another study showed kefir to bulk and moisten stool in rats. More study is required to be definitive, but because kefir has a variety of health benefits, it’s worth a try!
9. Coconut & Coconut Water:
Coconut & coconut water are both shown to elicit a laxative type effect. This may relate to the combination of fibre, electrolytes & fluids found in fresh coconut meat and coconut water – contributing to both bulking and moistening stool.
But be careful: over consumption can lead to diarrhea!
has a stimulating effect on the muscles in your gut, speeding up transit time and promoting a bowel movement. While decaffeinated coffee has a similar effect on constipation, it is stronger with caffeinated coffee.
Keep in mind though, that coffee also has a diuretic effect (it draws water out of the body through the urine), which may ultimately contribute to constipation!
Also, relying on coffee to stimulate bowel movements may further the problem – creating a physical dependence on it, and lessening your colon’s natural ability to contract and stimulate passage of stool.
11. Olive Oil:
In a study, olive oil was shown to be as effective as mineral oil in reducing constipation symptoms and increasing frequency of bowel movements.
So – all the benefits, without the anal seepage. Need I say more? (Just in case I do, consider that olive oil has myriad studies supporting its extensive health benefits – most notably regarding cardiovascular health and longevity.)
Dehydration is a known contributor to constipation. Those who are under-hydrated are most likely to see improvements to constipation by increasing their water (fluid) intake. One group shown to be particularly likely to benefit is the elderly.
This study demonstrated that a high fibre diet (>25g/day) coupled with 2L water daily was more effective at improving constipation than a high fibre diet alone. Herbal teas and unsalted broth can also count towards water intake. Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables also contributes.
13. Magnesium-Rich Foods:
Frequently touted as an effective natural laxative, magnesium is an essential nutrient with many functions. It works in tandem with calcium to control muscle contractility and relaxation by ensuring smooth nervous system communication – both implicated in constipation. Those with constipation who also suffer from leg cramps and/or sleeplessness may find magnesium effective.
A diet rich in magnesium may improve frequency & quality of stool. Some healthy food sources of magnesium include: whole grains, legumes such as black-eyed peas and kidney beans, molasses, nuts including almonds, hazelnuts & pecans as well as fresh produce such as Swiss chard, spinach & other leafy greens, bananas and avocados.
14. Probiotic-like Foods:
These include naturally fermented, live cultured plain organic yoghurt & kefir, unpasteurized sauerkraut and kim chi (Korean fermented cabbage). Probiotics and probiotic-like foods, help to support the growth & nourishment of healthy populations of bugs in our gut. These bugs, collectively called the “microbiota” or “microbiome”, contribute in many ways to digestive health and make-up a significant portion of our stool.
Consuming probiotic foods regularly may contribute to overall gut health and regular bowel movements. Keep in mind that “wild ferments” or “naturally fermented” foods will vary greatly in amounts and species of bacteria. If experiencing a lot of gas and bloating, these may need to be introduced more slowly.
A probiotic supplement or food-based probiotic (often found in yoghurt) may be more beneficial if it contains a strain-specific probiotic shown in studies to be effective at treating constipation. Work with a licensed Naturopathic Doctor who is knowledgeable about the different strains available, and which are most effective for different conditions.
15. Colonic or Prebiotic-like Foods:
These are foods like brown rice, carrots, cocoa, almonds and green tea, which act as a fuel source for the healthy bugs in our gut. For all the reasons that probiotic-like foods are of benefit, prebiotic foods are too.
Constipation Diet: Best Foods For Constipation Round-Up
BEST FOODS FOR CONSTIPATION
1. Kiwi & Blackberries and other high fibre fruits
2. Ground Flax Seeds and other high fibre seeds and whole grains
3. Resistant Starch Foods like cooked & cooled potatoes, legumes, green bananas, cassava, sweet potato, soaked oats, etc.
4. Water: 8-10 cups per day
Supportive Foods That Help Constipation
Prunes, apples, pears, berries, rhubarb, chia, oat bran, magnesium-rich foods, olive oil, kefir, moderate consumption of coconut meat or coconut water, prebiotic & probiotic-like foods.
Over-rated Foods For Constipation